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UVEX missses the Cluetrain

“… learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”The Cluetrain Manifesto, Chapter 1

Until I resigned yesterday, I was a Web marketing consultant for the US distributors of UVEX products for 7 years.

Last week, after the IOC demanded that we remove anything Lindsey Vonn related from the US web site,  I posted a limerick to UVEXsports.com congratulating Lindsey for her downhill win without using her name while simultaneously exposing the IOC’s shameful tactics.

(This is an organization that goes out of its way to menace local pizza joints that use the word “Olympics” in their names. )

By Friday, my rejoinder had been picked up by SlashDot and from there, landed on BigPicture.com (Barry Ritholtz’s blog), which was picked up by USA Today, and just this morning the NY Post ran a blurb (which noted that the post was now gone without explanation).

This, of course, was exactly the reaction I was hoping for and the commercial justification for the post. Easily half of the comments were a variation on “Good for you. Screw the IOC. I never heard of UVEX before, now I will buy your stuff.”

The IOC, apparently, was not pleased.

The saddest part of the reaction from UVEX’s German management (knuckle under and kill the blog) is that it reinforces to the IOC that its strong-arm tactics work.

At the same time, UVEX  rejected an opportunity to  grow their brand by empowering a human being to speak on their behalf in a human voice, which — as Doc Searls and company pointed out in the Cluetrain over a decade ago –  is a powerful way for brands to leverage the Web.

People reacted to that post because we are sick and tired of big business using lawyers to get their way whether or not what they want is legally, morally, or ethically justified. We all know that it doesn’t matter who is right, what matters is who can pay the most lawyers the longest and that is rarely the little guy.

The “Streisand Effect” is a way to fight back, and in this battle, “the little guy” can include brands that learn to find their human voice. When that happens, when  people realize that there are real people behind a logo who agree with them and respect their views, and they are entertained in the process, brands are rewarded with new, loyal customers.

Too bad that UVEX lacked the bälle to keep the conversation going.

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  • 6 comments

    6 Comments so far

    1. Sean Purcell February 23rd, 2010 6:14 pm

      Bravo John. The IOC is a small-minded dictatorship too top-heavy with small-minded people trying like hell to make up for their small-bodied earlier lives. The only positive sign I see is that they were worse in the 80s when that pin-head Juan Antonio Samaranch insisted on being referred to as “Your Excellency.” Can you believe the unmitigated hubris?

    2. Tom Johnson February 23rd, 2010 9:10 pm

      So sad.

    3. John Rowles February 24th, 2010 7:59 am

      Thanks, guys.

      Obviously, this is not directly real estate related, but there ought to be more cross-pollination from the wider world of eCommerce (and the lessons learned there) and the on-line real estate world, IMHO.

      The national franchise brand’s business model basically precludes them from having a unified, human voice on the Web, but that doesn’t mean that indie brokers, individual brokers, and agents can’t learn how to ditch the safe language of the MLS and break through on a human level.

      But the fear of liability, litigation and lawyers has a chilling effect on agents’s willingness to be honest in descriptions and on-line communications. All valid fears, to be sure, but the hedging and lack of actionable intelligence is palpable and contributes to the “agent as shyster” image that dogs the profession.

    4. [...] So wie me in den Kommentaren sagt (danke an den Hinweis), scheint UVEX den Blogeintrag gelöscht und somit royal vor dem IOC gekuscht zu haben. Der Autor, John Rowles, der nicht direkt für UVEX sondern für den amerikanischen Vertriebspartner gearbeitet hat, hat darauf hin gekündigt. [...]

    5. Markus March 2nd, 2010 2:14 am

      Let`s talk about trust.
      From our uvex point it is a question of trust first. You trust somebody to maintain a web site for you. Would anybody want to have such action on their web sites which was never agreed upfront? But unfortunately it was not….

      I think a web site that is given to me from a brand which is not my own I need to take care in a much more sensitive and coordinate way than I would with my own.

      Just to think about publicity is a one dimensional thinking – this is very true for a brand web site.

    6. John Rowles March 2nd, 2010 1:00 pm

      @Markus: Thank you for making the point.

      “Trust” is a two-way street. When I started managing the US site, the products on it were two years old and it was invisible in search engines.

      Now, UvexSports.com is easily the most relevant site for UVEX Sport products worldwide. That didn’t happen by accident. I earned that trust, and branching into social media was a logical step for a niche brand that does not have deep pockets for marketing.

      If you bothered to read the hundreds of supportive comments on that blog post before you had us take it down, you would have seen many people, who have never heard of UVEX or saw it every night on the Olympics without noticing it, applauding the brand for taking a stand.

      That is on-line brand building, not merely “publicity”.

      If you had bothered to understand the demographics of the SlashDot readers who responded to that post, you might have seen that they are the perfect UVEX customer — more interested in technology that works than the latest fashion, and able to afford it.

      It is not about “publicity” in a socially networked world. It is about starting a two-way conversation with your customers, actually listening to what they want, and then actually doing it.

      It is impossible to both empower real humans to speak for a brand *and* control the conversation. That is the mindset of an offline brand that is used to one-way communication.

      No one, including the German employees of UVEX who contacted me privately to express their sadness and frustration at the opportunity you missed, expected UVEX to understand this, and the outcome surprised no one, including me.

      Even so, perhaps next time you should try to understand the message before you kill the messenger.